The Host

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

The Host
dir Andy Newbery
prd Zachary Weckstein
scr Finola Geraghty, Brendan Bishop, Laurence Lamers
with Mike Beckingham, Maryam Hassouni, Dougie Poynter, Nigel Barber, Suan-Li Ong, Togo Igawa, Dominic Keating, Margo Stilley, Tom Wu, Daniel Boissevain, Derek Jacobi, Jeroen Krabbe, Ruby Turner
release US 17.Jan.20,
UK 17.Apr.20
20/Netherlands 1h44

poynter igawa jacobi

hassouni and beckingham
Set in London and Amsterdam, this homage to Psycho merrily flips story elements around to keep the audience on its toes. It's beautifully shot and finely acted by an eclectic cast, even though the screenplay overplays its hand, offering too much backstory and exposition, plus some rather obvious explanations. This kind of undermines the mystery, but the nastiness is still visceral.
In London, bank employee Rob (Beckingham) has just been dumped by his married girlfriend (Stilley) and is also drowning under huge gambling debts. Then the Chinese gangster Lau (Igawa) offers a solution he can't refuse: simply make a delivery to Amsterdam. On the way, he's watched by Lau's sidekicks (Ong and Wu) as well as an American agent (Summers). But when he checks into a bed-and-breakfast, a lavish canal home owned by heiress Vera (Hassouni), his mission takes a surprising turn. Wondering what's up, Rob's straight-arrow brother Steve (Poynter) begins tracing his steps.
With so many Psycho references, starting with the cool Saul Bass-inspired main titles, knowing audience members will see some of the twists coming long before the filmmakers decide to reveal them. The screenwriters also explain everything thoroughly, and director Newbery avoids subtext, so there's little for the audience to dive into themselves. Without this sense of intrigue, the events play out on a more dramatic level, even as the story takes a strong swerve into outright horror.

The ensemble cast is very strong, making the most of the sometimes wordy dialog. Beckingham has a vivid presence as a guy who has let his life spiral out of control. He's hapless without ever losing his likability. And as his brother, Poynter brings a nice mirrored image of a guy who has simply made better decisions. As the femme fatale, Hassouni provides quite a few offhanded chills, nicely balanced by the coolly observant Ong. And Barber channels George Clooney as an American who seems to be everywhere at once.

With its snaky plot, the movie is able to make intriguing comments on some big issues along the way, including the fact that justice is a very different thing for the wealthy than for everyone else. This might have come across more strongly with tighter editing and a subtler approach to storytelling, but the film still looks terrific. It's photographed in gorgeously dense colours by Oona Menges and has a strongly evocative score by Wan Pin Chu. And the narrative is packed with enjoyably grisly surprises.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 9.Jul.19

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